Vermont Tech President Dan Smith and GW Plastics CEO Brenan Riehl recently penned an important article that first appeared in the local Times Argus newspaper about the benefits to Vermont of their new, innovative employer-college partnership. The two leaders highlight how a combination of good jobs and effective college offerings that are aligned with local employers’ needs can be a remarkable economic development asset.
Across the state of Vermont, our demographics and the workforce are a challenge that everyone acknowledges. The state has seen a decline in the number of school-aged youth. Levels of aptitude and lack of preparation in math and science are undermining college and career readiness. Employers across the state are in need of skilled workers and are increasingly faced with a skills gap among new recruits.
At the same time, the existing workforce is aging and rapidly approaching retirement. This is especially true in the manufacturing sector. In Vermont, manufacturing contributes more to our GDP than the sector does on the national scale. GW Plastics, one of the area’s largest advanced manufacturing companies, is planning a local expansion that includes up to 70 jobs over the next three to five years. Manufacturing matters in the economy of this state.
Recognizing these challenges, GW Plastics and Vermont Technical College have designed a framework and partnership that can close the skills gap among new recruits and help put more young people on the path to a rewarding career capable of sustaining a livable wage. We believe this is critical to the future health of Vermont’s business community and economy.
Vermont Tech’s programs in mechanical engineering technology have always supported the manufacturing industry. The college features job and advanced education placement rates of 96 percent across all programs, and even higher among engineering technology degrees. According to the federal government, the average Vermont Tech graduate makes $44,200 annually. That is the fourth highest average salary in the state and the highest of any public college or university in Vermont.
Today, a career in advanced manufacturing can be deeply rewarding. It requires creativity, the ability to function as part of a team and the skills to solve problems that matter. In the case of GW Plastics, Vermont Tech graduates are helping GW develop and manufacture transformational medical devices that are used to improve patient care throughout the world. Vermont Tech’s project-based, applied-learning opportunities are perfectly structured to help close the skills gap for GW Plastics and the many other manufacturing employers in the region.
The combination of good jobs and an effective college that is aligned with local employers can be a remarkable economic development asset. The partnership between GW Plastics and Vermont Tech is designed to support student enrollment in the programs connected to jobs at GW. In order to do so, GW has committed to funding scholarships for local students who enroll in mechanical engineering and offers a paid internship to those selected for the scholarship. Those who are selected for the scholarship and internship and complete them successfully can expect a job offer from GW Plastics. After two years of college, funded in part by your likely employer, a student can hit the ground running with a good job, offering great benefits and a competitive salary in their backyard. Those benefits include a generous tuition benefit if a student/employee wants to continue his or her education while employed at GW Plastics.
An additional option can make the pathway even more affordable for Vermont students. Through the Vermont Academy of Science and Technology at Vermont Tech, Vermont high school seniors who are academically ready can enroll full-time during their senior year of high school. The state of Vermont will pay their tuition while they earn their diplomas and finish their first year of college simultaneously. Add this early-college option into the GW Plastics partnership, and a local student can finish his or her associate degree by the age of 19, have an excellent job, and a nearly-free college degree.
As CEO of GW Plastics and president of Vermont Technical College, we urge our friends and neighbors, parents and teachers, counselors and principals in the region to explore the excellent opportunity offered by this innovative partnership. If you are a high school junior or senior contemplating your plans for the coming year, we encourage you to reach out and explore the career adventure that is right in your backyard. There are great jobs here in Vermont, if you choose a pathway that takes you to the door.
Brenan Riehl is president and CEO of GW Plastics, which has its headquarters in Bethel. Dan Smith is president of Vermont Technical College in Randolph.
This article was originally published in the Times Argus Sunday, November 15, 2015 edition.